The Reader Magazine Wed, 01 Jul 2015 04:12:10 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Coming of Age in the Time of the Hoodie Fri, 26 Jun 2015 15:16:52 +0000 Earlier this year I decided to read Joe Brainard’s cult classic, I Remember. The book had long intrigued me for I had heard that it was widely taught in creative writing courses and was a favorite of many authors, including several well-known authors whose work I admire. I was immediately drawn to Brainard’s style, each line starting with the words “I remember.” As I read it, I found myself jotting down remembrances of my own, complementing Brainard’s memories of America with my memories of Nigeria.

I was enjoying this little book, reading it slowly, taking my time to appreciate the beauty and originality of the writing while remembering and reminiscing. It was a soothing and creative project until I came to this:

I remember feeling sorry for black people, not because I thought they were persecuted, but because I thought they were ugly.

I remember gasping.

I remember thinking, So this is what Zora Neale Hurston meant when she wrote, “I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background.”

I remember ugly.

I remember not wanting to continue, but continuing all the same.

I remember it got worse several lines later when Brainard writes:

I remember speculating that probably someday science would come up with some sort of miracle cream that could bleach skin, and Negroes could become white.

I remember thinking, “So this is his solution, to make everyone white?”

I remember returning to Auster’s glowing preface.

I remember wondering if Auster felt anything close to my shock and sadness when reading those lines.

I remember not wanting to be disappointed in Auster.

I remember helping myself to some chocolate, and then to more.

I remember not being hungry, but eating as though starved.

I remember wondering if I was over-reacting.

I remember wondering if I was becoming consumed with race.

Thirteen years ago I wrote an essay entitled “Oyinbo,” an autobiographical account of my personal experiences with race and racism. The narrative began with my countries of origin, Nigeria and England, and my parent’s marriage—with my white mother who was disowned by her parents for choosing to marry a black man. The essay then wound its way through other places where I have lived or traveled—France, Zimbabwe, the U.S., and South Africa. I wrote of the social construction of race as found in America and Southern Africa and how these particular societal constructions of race were largely alien to me, having been raised in Nigeria. I also wrote of race in the U.K., which was partially eclipsed by the prevalence of social class, Britain’s preferred mode of social segregation.

Before we were married, my husband asked me if I identified as “black.” I remember thinking this an odd question. I thought it should be obvious that I identified as black even though I was, “technically,” half black and half white. But right there, in the making of the half-black and half-white observation, was, perhaps, where some of my husband’s concerns lay. What I didn’t fully appreciate at the time was the history behind my husband’s question. He had grown up in apartheid Rhodesia where he experienced segregation and racism very much as African Americans would have experienced it in 1960s America. It was important, therefore, for my husband to feel reassured, especially for the sake of any future children, that they would feel secure in their “race.” I, in contrast, raised in Nigeria during the 1970s and ’80s, did not grow up with race as a defining element of my upbringing or identity. Nigeria has no history of apartheid and no established tradition of societies structured along racial lines.

Twenty years of living in America has cured me of any whimsical notions I once held about the fluidity of racial categorization, and race now presents me with the following dilemma. When talking about race there is always a part of me that feels as though I am perpetuating and legitimizing it, giving it the fixed status that it should never have. But then not to talk about race, or to try to ignore it, is not only impractical but also irresponsible. I therefore try to follow what I feel James Baldwin so wisely advocates in many of his essays: to remain committed to the struggle against racism while trying to keep my heart free of hatred and despair. But with every passing year this has proven more difficult, even for someone who, by virtue of my gender, fair skin, and privileged socio-economic status is frequently cocooned from the nastier manifestations of racial discrimination. It has become increasingly hard to keep my heart free of despair while noticing the effects of discrimination, especially as it pertains to young black men in America. And since the birth of my son it has become increasingly personal. I ended “Oyinbo,” wondering what my son’s experience of race might be like when he became a young man:

My son Julian was pink with bright blue eyes when he was born, but now he has my coffee-and-cream colored complexion and dark brown eyes. Everyone says he, two years old, is cute—Oh, he’s adorable! Oh, he’s darling! What a cutie! He’s such a looker!—It warms my heart but I wonder, when he’s a teenager, tall, gangly, and black, what will people say?

I have long known that my son would encounter racism, for even in the seemingly liberal, tolerant city of San Francisco where we live, we experienced several racial incidents in his early years.

I remember there was the woman at the playground who whispered to her white child not to touch my son because he was “dirty.”

I remember our babysitter from Mexico, as she recalled this episode, crying and repeating, “He wasn’t even sandy!”

I remember, on other occasions, biting my tongue—not because what I overheard of third-graders’ fantasy play was meant to wound, but because it suggested that school or parents were neglecting to teach something essential about the history and legacy of race in America. “I’ll be President Washington,” announced my son’s friend, placing a neck cushion on top of his straight brown hair to imitate a wig. “And you,” he said, pointing to my son, “shall be my slave.”

But even as I expected my son to encounter yet other forms of racism, I would never have predicted that he would come of age during a spate of highly publicized police killings of black men. Nor would I have thought that the words of civil rights activist Ella Baker would remain as relevant and urgent today as they were fifty years ago: “Until the killing of black men, black mothers’ sons, becomes as important to the rest of the country as the killing of a white mother’s sons—we who believe in freedom cannot rest until this happens.” When I wrote “Oyinbo,” I had hoped for progress, not regression, around issues of race, but instead, in the intervening years, economic inequalities between blacks and whites have risen, as have incarceration rates for black men and reports of police brutality against them.

It was in the context of the recent shootings of young black men that my family had the following conversation: We were walking home from dinner on a cold San Francisco night when my husband turned to our teenage son and said:

“I hope you don’t wear your hoodie up at night, not when it’s dark, and if we’re not with you.”

“No,” our son replied. “Only if I’m alone. Or if I’m cold.”

“But you shouldn’t wear it at all,” my husband insisted.

Our son sighed, unable to conceal his impatience.

“I’m serious about this one,” his father repeated. “Okay?”

I sensed that if I could peek around the edge of our son’s hoodie, I would have found him rolling his eyes in frustration. He was annoyed, and I didn’t blame him. It is annoying to have to be so careful about how one dresses when other young people don’t have to practice the same vigilance. Yet the tragic reality for young black men in this country is that the color of their skin marks them as threatening. The statistics are frightening—young black men in America are shot dead by police at twenty-one times the rate of young white men. There is nothing we can do to make our fifteen-year-old son any shorter than his current height of six foot three, but we can encourage him to dress in such a way that will, hopefully, make him appear less “threatening.”

“It’s just one of those sad things,” said father to son.

In December, around the time of the grand jury decision not to indict the white officer in the choking death of Eric Garner, I remember talking to fellow black mothers about the ease with which others seemed able to go about the business of the holidays, without giving much thought to the pain and fear that gripped us. One friend of a friend, so afraid of what might happen to her teenage sons after a string of burglaries caused her neighbors to start warning against “anyone who looks out of place,” decided to send photographs to all the neighbors so they would take note and really see her boys: so that they would know what her boys looked like: so that one day, should they be tempted to call the police on perceiving the threat of another “black male,” they would instead see her sons for who they were—young men with names. I feel shocked when white friends are surprised to hear that one of my greatest fears for our son is that he will be stabbed or shot to death. Why, given all the statistics for young black males in America, do people continue to be surprised?

I sometimes hear friends complaining that it’s too difficult to have an honest conversation about race in America, and from others I occasionally hear attempts to justify their fears of young black males. Recently, someone was brave enough to tell me that because she was once mugged by an African American man, in an elevator, she’s now too scared to get into any elevator with a black man. She confessed she’s fearful of black men. I told her I was sorry for what happened and empathized, for I too have experienced the terror of being attacked—but I did not tell her how profoundly her confession affected me. After all, it was white men who attacked me in broad daylight in the south of France, at a bus stop, where no passerby stopped to help me, yet I do not single out white men as the object of my fear. I couldn’t bring myself to tell this woman how her confession had caused me to fall deeper into despair. I have known countless black men and boys in my life—my father, my husband, my brother, my son, my uncles, my godsons, my neighbors. Countless kind, responsible, flawed, ordinary, and extraordinary black men who have committed no acts of violence. And yet it felt somehow acceptable, even commonplace, for a white person to confess a fear of black men. I do not deny the fact that young black males have higher crime and incarceration rates, but the conversation cannot simply stop there. As this person went on detailing her fears, I could not help but think of Claudia Rankine’s poem Citizen: An American Lyric. Line after line she writes “in memory” of young black men, concluding:

because white men can’t
police their imagination
black men are dying

As a parent of a young black man, I worry not only about my child’s physical safety, but also about his emotional and mental well-being. Having grown up in Nigeria, I know what it’s like to be free of the mental burden of race.

But I feel as though I have now become so burdened by race in America that I have acquired what the actor David Oyelowo refers to as a “minority mentality,” a mentality that puts a damper on one’s ambitions and outlook on life. Gone are the starry-eyed days of innocence. Now I see race in many things. The way black people are routinely called to one side at airports. The way that workers in fancy hotels, restaurants, and retail stores keep a wary eye on black people. Even the way that a white man the other day pulled up behind my car and started swearing at me and honking louder than I suspect he would have if I were not black, protesting that I was “stealing” the parking space that he had just done an illegal U turn for.

I see race where others do not, where race indeed might not be a factor, and I do not want this to be my son’s experience. In my attempts not to overwhelm him with desperation, I find myself not wanting to dwell too much on all the news of racial violence and discrimination against black men. I want my son to be aware of racial prejudice, but not so much that he loses faith in the human race. There’s a balance between mindfulness and despair that I’m not always sure I get right as a parent.

“What are your thoughts on race?” I asked my son one afternoon while writing this essay. I was trying to pitch the words just right, hoping that he wouldn’t dismiss this as another annoying adult question. “How do you feel as a young black man in America?”

“That’s too general,” he replied.

“Do you worry about racism?”

“Um hmm,” he said, shrugging his shoulders.

When I pushed him to explain what “um hmm” meant, he said he doesn’t find that people are racist “on purpose” but “unconsciously,” and that people’s unconscious racism is what makes him a little bit “uneasy.”

I probed further, “Does it feel burdensome being black?”

“In a joking way, for basketball,” he smiled, and then, turning serious, he added that if he came from a lower-income family it would be different.

He left me with my thoughts, in the kitchen, but then called back:

“But yeah, on first instincts, the sound of the police is uneasy.”

“The sound of what?” I asked, my heart lurching.

“The sound of police sirens,” he called back. “It makes me feel uneasy.”

My son’s “unease” makes me uneasy. I know that for now, with nothing having happened to him directly, or anyone close to him, he remains philosophical and is even able to joke about racial stereotyping. But how long does this “relative innocence” last? “By the time you hear the next pop, the funk shall be within you,” flows Kendrick Lamar in “King Kunta,” one of my son’s favorite songs.

A few months ago my son drew a self-portrait for his high school art class. He worked studiously on it for several days and when he showed it to me, I saw a confident young man at home in his skin. It took me back to a recent family vacation, where I stood in the Museu Picasso with my son, both of us admiring Picasso’s self-portrait of 1896, drawn when he was roughly the same age my son is now. Filled with a mother’s pride, I emailed a copy of my son’s art to my parents. While I did not expect anyone else to see the Picasso, the Elizabeth Catlett, or the Bruce Onobrakpeya that I could see in my son’s self-portrait, I was not expecting the first line of my mother’s email response to be, “Don’t let the police get this!” Her response reminded me of how others might see my son, a hall-of-mirrors angle reinforced by the constant display of police sketches of young black suspects. This was the view I didn’t normally see, that I didn’t want to see. Like Brainard’s “ugly,” it made me gasp. Made me ache. I went back to my son’s self-portrait and stared at it for a long time.

I couldn’t bring myself to tell my mother how her response had affected me until I had written this essay—more proof of how difficult it is to talk about race even with those closest and dearest. My mother meant no harm by what she wrote. I knew this, but what she had presumed I would understand as her dry Yorkshire humor was completely lost to me in the context of race in America.

Another book that I picked up at the beginning of the year was Deborah Levy’s Things I Don’t Want to Know. This gem, written by a white, Jewish woman who grew up in South Africa and England, is a thoughtful, feminist response to George Orwell’s essay “Why I Write.”

I remember Levy asking, “What do we do with knowledge that we cannot bear to live with? What do we do with the things we do not want to know?”

I remember her implied response—one writes about them.

I remember this as young black men across America are killing each other and being killed by police officers that are supposed to protect them.

I remember this as society fails to address wealth and class inequalities and thereby returns the vast majority of black people in America to a new form of servitude.

These are things I don’t want to know, but they are there. Pulling at me.

And my little boy is becoming a man.

And I worry.


Sarah Ladipo Manyika was raised in Nigeria and has lived in Kenya, France, and England. She holds a Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley, and currently teaches literature at San Francisco State University. Her writing includes essays, academic papers, reviews and short stories. Sarah’s first novel, In Dependence, is published by Legend Press (London) and Cassava Republic Press (Abuja). This essay is from AGNI Online

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Towards A New Story Sun, 24 May 2015 03:17:03 +0000 It is frightening, this transition between worlds, but it is also alluring. Have you ever gotten addicted to doom-and-gloom websites, logging on every day to read the latest evidence that collapse is coming soon, feeling almost let down when Peak Oil didn’t start in 2005, or the financial system didn’t collapse in 2008? (I’m still worried about Y2K myself.) Do you look toward the future with a mixture of dread, yes, but also a kind of positive anticipation? When a big crisis looms, a superstorm or financial crisis, is there a part of you that says, “Bring it on!” hoping it might free us from our collective entrapment in a system that serves no one (not even its elites)?

It is quite normal to fear what one most desires. We desire to transcend the Story of the World that has come to enslave us, that indeed is killing the planet. We fear what the end of that story will bring: the demise of much that is familiar.

Fear it or not, it is happening already. Since my childhood in the 1970s, our Story of the People has eroded at an accelerating rate. More and more people in the West no longer believe that civilization is fundamentally on the right track. Even those who don’t yet question its basic premises in any explicit way seem to have grown weary of it. A layer of cynicism, a hipster self-awareness has muted our earnestness. What was once so real, say a plank in a party platform, today is seen through several levels of “meta” filters that parse it in terms of image and message. We are like children who have grown out of a story that once enthralled us, aware now that it is only a story.

At the same time, a series of new data points has disrupted the story from the outside. The harnessing of fossil fuels, the miracle of chemicals to transform agriculture, the methods of social engineering and political science to create a more rational and just society—each has fallen far short of its promise, and brought unanticipated consequences that, together, threaten civilization. We just cannot believe anymore that the scientists have everything well in hand. Nor can we believe that the onward march of reason will bring on social Utopia.

Today we cannot ignore the intensifying degradation of the biosphere, the malaise of the economic system, the decline in human health, or the persistence and indeed growth of global poverty and inequality. We once thought economists would fix poverty, political scientists would fix social injustice, chemists and biologists would fix environmental problems, the power of reason would prevail and we would adopt sane policies. I remember looking at maps of rainforest decline in National Geographic in the early 1980s and feeling both alarm and relief—relief because at least the scientists and everyone who reads National Geographic are aware of the problem now, so something surely will be done.

Nothing was done. Rainforest decline accelerated, along with nearly every other environmental threat that we knew about in 1980. Our Story of the People trundled forward under the momentum of centuries, but with each passing decade the hollowing-out of its core, which started perhaps with the industrial-scale slaughter of World War I, extended further. When I was a child, our ideological systems and mass media still protected that story, but in the last thirty years the incursions of reality have punctured its protective shell and eroded its essential infrastructure. We no longer believe our storytellers, our elites.

We have lost the vision of the future we once had; most people have no vision of the future at all. This is new for our society. Fifty or a hundred years ago, most people agreed on the general outlines of the future. We thought we knew where society was going. Even the Marxists and the capitalists agreed on its basic outlines: a paradise of mechanized leisure and scientifically engineered social harmony, with spirituality either abolished entirely or relegated to a materially inconsequential corner of life that happened mostly on Sundays. Of course there were dissenters from this vision, but this was the general consensus.

Like an animal, when a story nears its end it goes through death throes, an exaggerated semblance of life. So today we see domination, conquest, violence, and separation take on absurd extremes that hold a mirror up to what was once hidden and diffuse. Here are a few examples:

Villages in Bangladesh where half the people have just one kidney, having sold the other in the black-market organ trade. Usually this is done to pay off debts. Here we see, literalized, the conversion of life into money that drives our economic system.

Prisons in China where prisoners must spend fourteen hours a day playing online video games to build up character experience points. The prison officials then sell these characters to teenagers in the West. Here we see, in extreme form, the disconnect between the physical and virtual worlds, the suffering and exploitation upon which our fantasies are built.

Old people in Japan whose relatives have no time to see them, so instead they receive visits from professional “relatives” who pretend to be family members. Here is a mirror to the dissolution of the bonds of community and family, to be replaced by money.

Of course, all of these pale in comparison to the litany of horrors that punctuates history and continues, endemic, to this day. The wars, the genocide, the mass rapes, the sweatshops, the mines, the slavery. On close examination, these are no less absurd. It is the height of absurdity that we are still manufacturing hydrogen bombs and depleted uranium munitions at a time when the planet is in such peril that we all must pull together, and soon, for civilization to have any hope of standing. The absurdity of war has never escaped the most perceptive among us, but in general we have had narratives that obscure or normalize that absurdity, and thus protect the Story of the World from disruption.

Occasionally, something happens that is so absurd, so awful, or so manifestly unjust that it penetrates these defenses and causes people to question much of what they’d taken for granted. Such events present a cultural crisis. Typically, though, the dominant mythology soon recovers, incorporating the event back into its own narratives. The Ethiopian famine became about helping those poor black children unfortunate enough to live in a country that still hasn’t “developed” as we have. The Rwandan genocide became about African savagery and the need for humanitarian intervention. The Nazi Holocaust became about evil taking over, and the necessity to stop it. All of these interpretations contribute, in various ways, to the old Story of the People: we are developing, civilization is on the right track, goodness comes through control. None hold up to scrutiny; they obscure, in the former two examples, the colonial and economic causes of the famine and genocide, which are still ongoing. In the case of the Holocaust, the explanation of evil obscures the mass participation of ordinary people—people like you and me. Underneath the narratives a disquiet persists, the feeling that something is terribly wrong with the world.

The year 2012 ended with a small but potent story-piercing event: the Sandy Hook massacre. By the numbers, it was a small tragedy: far more, and equally innocent, children died in U.S. drone strikes that year, or by hunger that week, than died at Sandy Hook. But Sandy Hook penetrated the defense mechanisms we use to maintain the fiction that the world is basically okay. No narrative could contain its utter senselessness and quell the realization of a deep and awful wrongness.

We couldn’t help but map those murdered innocents onto the young faces we know, and the anguish of their parents onto ourselves. For a moment, I imagine, we all felt the exact same thing. We were in touch with the simplicity of love and grief, a truth outside of story.

Following that moment, people hurried to make sense of the event, subsuming it within a narrative about gun control, mental health, or the security of school buildings. No one believes deep down that these responses touch the heart of the matter. Sandy Hook is an anomalous data point that unravels the entire narrative—the world no longer makes sense. We struggle to explain what it means, but no explanation suffices. We may go on pretending that normal is still normal, but this is one of a series of “end time” events that is dismantling our culture’s mythology.

Who could have foreseen, two generations ago when the story of progress was strong, that the twenty-first century would be a time of school massacres, of rampant obesity, of growing indebtedness, of pervasive insecurity, of intensifying concentration of wealth, of unabated world hunger, and of environmental degradation that threatens civilization? The world was supposed to be getting better. We were supposed to be becoming wealthier, more enlightened. Society was supposed to be advancing. Is heightened security the best we can aspire to? What happened to visions of a society without locks, without poverty, without war? Are these things beyond our technological capacities? Why are the visions of a more beautiful world that seemed so close in the middle twentieth century now seem so unreachable that all we can hope for is to survive in an ever more competitive, ever more degraded world? Truly, our stories have failed us. Is it too much to ask, to live in a world where our human gifts go toward the benefit of all? Where our daily activities contribute to the healing of the biosphere and the well-being of other people? We need a Story of the People—a real one, that doesn’t feel like a fantasy—in which a more beautiful world is once again possible.

Various visionary thinkers have offered versions of such a story, but none has yet become a true Story of the People, a widely accepted set of agreements and narratives that gives meaning to the world and coordinates human activity toward its fulfillment. We are not quite ready for such a story yet, because the old one, though in tatters, still has large swaths of its fabric intact. And even when these unravel, we still must traverse, naked, the space between stories. In the turbulent times ahead our familiar ways of acting, thinking, and being will no longer make sense. We won’t know what is happening, what it all means, and, sometimes, even what is real. Some people have entered that time already.

I wish I could tell you that I am ready for a new Story of the People, but even though I am among its many weavers, I cannot yet fully inhabit the new vestments. As I describe the world that could be, something inside me doubts and rejects, and underneath the doubt is a hurting thing. The breakdown of the old story is kind of a healing process that uncovers the old wounds hidden under its fabric and exposes them to the healing light of awareness. I am sure many people reading this have gone through such a time, when the cloaking illusions fell away: all the old justifications and rationalizations, all the old stories. Events like Sandy Hook help to initiate the very same process on a collective level. So also the superstorms, the economic crisis, political meltdowns … in one way or another, the obsolescence of our old mythology is laid bare.

What is that hurting thing, that takes the form of cynicism, despair, or hate? Left unhealed, can we hope that any future we create won’t reflect that wound back at us? How many revolutionaries have re-created, in their own organizations and countries, the very institutions of oppression they sought to overthrow? Only in the Story of Separation can we insulate outside from inside. As that story breaks down, we see that each necessarily reflects the other. We see the necessity of reuniting the long-sundered threads of spirituality and activism.

Bear in mind, as I describe the elements of a new Story of the People in the next chapter, that we have a rugged territory to traverse to get to it from where we are today. If my description of a Story of Interbeing, a reunion of humanity and nature, self and other, work and play, discipline and desire, matter and spirit, man and woman, money and gift, justice and compassion, and so many other polarities seems idealistic or naive, if it arouses cynicism, impatience, or despair, then please do not push these feelings aside. They are not obstacles to be overcome (that is part of the old Story of Control). They are gateways to our fully inhabiting a new story, and the vastly expanded power to serve change that it brings.

We do not have a new story yet. Each of us is aware of some of its threads, for example in most of the things we call alternative, holistic, or ecological today. Here and there we see patterns, designs, emerging parts of the fabric. But the new mythos has not yet formed. We will abide for a time in the “space between stories.” It is a very precious—some might say sacred—time. Then we are in touch with the real. Each disaster lays bare the reality underneath our stories. The terror of a child, the grief of a mother, the honesty of not knowing why. In such moments our dormant humanity awakens as we come to each other’s aid, human to human, and learn who we are. That’s what keeps happening every time there is a calamity, before the old beliefs, ideologies, and politics take over again. Now the calamities and contradictions are coming so fast that the story has not enough tine to recover. Such is the birth process into a new story.

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Is Facebook’s Pay To Play News Feed Good for News? Sun, 24 May 2015 02:59:17 +0000 The Facebook empire of 1.4 billion users just conquered new territory, unrolling a “partnership” to host articles from some of the most well-known news publications in the world, in a venture that critics warn poses a direct threat to independent media outlets—and the future of the Internet.

“The basic problem is that Facebook is trying to become the Internet, so that it replaces the distributive, cooperative model of digital communication with a centralized, privatized system where a for-profit company controls all the levers of the way that we transmit information,” Jim Naureckas, editor at Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), told Common Dreams.

“Knowledge is literally power, and to have all that power concentrated into one company’s hands is really a kind of feudalism,” Naureckas added.

As of Wednesday, the company’s new “Instant Articles” will directly feature stories from The New York Times, BuzzFeed, National Geographic, The Atlantic, NBC News, The Guardian, BBC News, Bild, and Spiegel Online. Under the platform, the entirety of a news article will appear in Facebook’s iPhone app. The perk, according to Facebook, is that the article will load “ten times faster than standard mobile web articles.”

The New York Times says that “news publishers can either sell and embed advertisements in the articles, keeping all of the revenue, or allow Facebook to sell ads, with the social network getting 30 percent of the proceeds.”

Facebook is also allowing media companies to collect data on article readers “about the people reading the articles with the same tools they use to track visitors to their own sites,” explains the Times.

“When you hear Facebook explaining what they are trying to do it sounds innocuous,” said Naureckas. “They are trying to speed up the loading of articles on people’s Facebook pages when they use cell phones. But the means of doing this is to subsume all content that people are receiving under this one company’s control.”

Analysts say this control raises numerous problems.

“Any time Facebook acts as a gatekeeper to all content on the Internet, it raises concerns, not only because of their blocking procedures, but also because of the algorithms they use, which effectively give Facebook control over the content that gets featured,” Timothy Karr, senior director of strategy for Free Press, told Common Dreams.

Karr added that the deal could strike another blow against independent media: “If they are prioritizing prominent news outlets, it only goes to figure that less prominent media organizations get pushed down.”

Writing in anticipation of the deal in April, Trevor Timm, executive director of Freedom of the Press Foundation, pointed out that the company’s filtering algorithm “has increasingly turned into a pay-for-play system from news organization. Want more people to see your content? Then ‘boost’ your posts by shelling out some money. This already has turned Facebook into something of a two-tiered content sharing system, where the rich will inevitably see their stories go ‘viral’ (if you can even call it that) much faster than will the poor.”

“How will its algorithms handle stories posted directly to Facebook that question Facebook’s monopoly status?” asked Timm. “How will it handle news organizations questioning its lobbying ties with the government?”

Even the news companies that signed onto the venture expressed reluctance and resignation. According to Times journalists Vindu Goel and Ravi Somaiya, the deal concludes “months of delicate negotiations between the Internet giant and publishers that covet its huge audience but fear its growing power.” They add: “Facebook’s role as a powerful distributor of news makes many people in the industry uneasy. The fear is that it could become more of a destination than their own sites for the work they produce, drawing away readers and advertising.”

James Bennet, editor in chief of The Atlantic, echoed this sentiment, acknowledging that the deal with Facebook means “losing control over the means of your distribution.”

But the deal is just the latest expansion of Facebook. The launch of “Instant Articles” comes on the heels of Facebook’s revelation earlier this month that it is unrolling—an effort to bring the web to the developing world as a Facebook-owned entity. The plan has been widely criticized as a bid to further privatize the Internet while jeopardizing the rights and privacy of users.

According to Karr, Facebook’s raises even more concerns about the company. “Facebook is not the Internet,” said Karr. “The Internet is a place where Internet users have control. Facebook often presents itself as a portal to Internet, but it is not open in the same way.”

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A Dedicated Few Sun, 24 May 2015 02:52:05 +0000

As a high school student, I came across an observation by Abraham Lincoln who said that “With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed.” Today “public sentiment” would be called “public opinion.”

Over the years, I have been astonished at how less than one percent of the citizenry, backed by the “public sentiment,” have changed our country for the better by enacting reforms to protect the people from abuses of power, discrimination and deep neglect.

Specifically, if – one percent or less – were to dedicate a modest amount of their time and money working together for much-needed changes that are overwhelmingly supported by public opinion in each congressional or state legislative district, they would prevail against the government and corporate power structures.

There are obstacles, such as a corporate influence over City Hall and wavering politicians who insincerely pledge support, but defer and delay action. But, if people work together, almost any problem can be solved.

History shows that it only takes a dedicated few to gain the momentum from many more to enact change. The major drives to give women the right to vote, workers the right to form unions and secure numerous protections, and farmers regulation of railroads and banks did not require more than one percent of seriously active champions. Those in power understood that there was overwhelming support for these reforms by affected populations.

Even the abolition movement against slavery was well under way in our country before Ft. Sumter and did not involve more than one percent of the people, including the slaves who fled via the Underground Railroad. By 1833, the British Empire, including Canada, had already brought slavery to an end.

More recently, the breakthrough laws in the late sixties and early seventies regarding auto and product safety, environmental health and occupational safety drew on far less than one percent of seriously engaged supporters. The air and water pollution laws were supported by widespread demonstrations that did not require a large burden of time by the participants. These air and water pollution laws, not surprisingly, were very popular when introduced and the public made its support known to lawmakers with numerous phone calls and letters. Other reforms (auto safety, product safety and occupational safety measures) were pushed through with far less than one percent of engaged citizens, as was the critical Freedom of Information Act of 1974.

Along with the small full-time advocacy groups, a modest level of visible activity around the country aroused the media. The more citizen power the media observed, the more reporting, and this in turn led to greater public awareness.

Lately, this pattern can be seen in the efforts to enact civil rights for the LGBTQ community and to pass a substantially higher minimum wage for tens of millions of workers being paid less now than workers were paid in 1968, adjusted for inflation. The latter has become a front burner issue at the city, state and congressional levels with picketers in front of McDonald’s, Burger King, Walmart, and other giant low-pay chains over the past two years. Those pushing for higher wages number less than the population of Waterbury, Connecticut (approximately 110,000). The Service Employees International Union (SEIU), some think tanks, organizers, writers and economists rounded out this less than one percent model of action for justice.

It is important to remember that the active one percent or less, with the exception of a handful of full-timers, are committing no more time than do serious hobbyists, such as stamp and coin collectors, or members of bowling leagues and bridge clubs, or birdwatchers.

Why is all this important? Because in a demoralized society full of people who have given up on their government, on themselves and are out of the public civic arena, learning that one percent can be decisive, can be hugely motivational and encouraging, especially with emerging Left-Right alliances. Prison reform, juvenile justice, crony capitalism, civil liberties, unconstitutional wars, and sovereignty-shredding and job-exporting trade treaties that threaten health and safety protections are all ripe for Left-Right action (see my recent book Unstoppable: The Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State).

Youngsters grow up exposed to numerous obstacles that tell them they “can’t fight City Hall” or the big corporate bosses. Unfortunately, they are not taught to reject being powerless because they learn myths, not reality, and they graduate without civic skills and experience. Small wonder why so many of them could easily be members of a Society of Apathetics.

But lawmakers want to retain their jobs. Companies want to keep their customers. On many issues that could so improve livelihoods and the quality of life in America, it is important to bring to everyone the history and current achievements of the one percent who stood tall, spoke and acted as the sovereign people our constitution empowers them to become.

Send more 1% examples to

Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer, and author. His latest book is The Seventeen Solutions: Bold Ideas for Our American Future. Other recent books include, The Seventeen Traditions: Lessons from an American Childhood, Getting Steamed to Overcome Corporatism: Build It Together to Win, and “Only The Super-Rich Can Save Us” (a novel).  Published on Saturday, May 23, 2015 by Common Dreams.  This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

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‘We Are Many': Documentary Depicts Legacy of Global Anti-War Movement Sun, 24 May 2015 02:43:19 +0000

Film premiering this week in the UK details 2003 march against Iraq War—the largest protest in history

The extraordinary February 15, 2003 march against the U.S. invasion of Iraq, which brought an estimated 30 million people to the streets in 800 cities on every continent, is immortalized on screen in Amir Amirani’s acclaimed documentary, We Are Many, premiering in the UK this week.

We Are Many interviews key organizers of the march—including Damon Albarn, Ken Loach and the late Tony Benn—as well as the officials who pushed for the U.S. to invade Iraq. A trailer for the film also shows peace activists being dragged away from congressional meetings, Iraqi children weeping in the aftermath of bombings, and veterans throwing away their army medals in a demonstration against the war.

In a video interview in January with Laura Flanders and Phyllis Bennis, Amirani explained, “There was something about the atmosphere that was created—somehow it had crept into public consciousness in a way that hadn’t happened before.”

The film “received a four-minute standing ovation when it debuted at the Sheffield International Documentary Festival last June,” the Guardian writes in its review. “Charting the biggest civil protest in history with depth and authentic political perspective is no walk in the park. But Amirani pulls it off with panache, stemming largely from the impressive breadth of heavyweight contributors that he enlisted for the film.”

Published by Common Dreams.  This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

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The Rise of Working America Tue, 19 May 2015 18:01:16 +0000 “Labor comes before capital and deserves the higher consideration”, wrote Abraham Lincoln.  And yet for all the esteem we have for the 16th president of the United States, do we share his view when it comes to money and labor?

Do we privately– and as a society– consider work higher than money itself?  If we believe work– our own, the employment of others, and the rules concerning work–  should be regarded with “higher consideration” than money, which is what Lincoln wrote, how do we craft a society like this?

What might have led Lincoln to believe labor deserves “higher consideration” than money itself?  Have we been led into a set of beliefs in which money is regarded the soul of our system rather than labor which “comes before” money?

Perhaps This Reader Magazine will begin to answer some of these questions. Looking back at the faces of American workers in the past and reading about reforms over 200 years what struck me was the impossibility of doing justice to the story of America at work within the confines of the time and space we have here.

In an image taken at the beginning of the 20th century, a group of Americans are marching to demand an end to 12-hour work days, with faces that are excited and expectant, some noticeably afraid.
How many marches like this did it take to end child labor, establish the 8-hour work week, the weekend, and other benefits, I wondered.

Interestingly, the question of whether it makes sense for any of us to get involved in any cause that speaks to our sense of right and wrong  is revealed in the images that remain of these marches.  Some who participated in the march may have spent decades in a factory or office but the only image we have of them and entered into historical record was that hour they were outside it, demanding something better for themselves, exercising their Constitutional right to assemble.

It is a complex story by its nature: work within the greatest, most powerful nation on earth. In the early 1970s, hoping to capture the story, Studs Terkel made dozens of audio interviews with Americans from all work backgrounds. The resulting book, which I read as a 20-year old, was not how Norman Rockwell portrayed America, but it captured reality and began with these four sentences:

This book, being about work, is, by its very nature, about violence–to the spirit as well as to the body. It is about ulcers as well as accidents, about shouting matches and fistfights, about nervous breakdowns as well as kicking the dog around.  It is, above all (or beneath all) about daily humiliations.  To survive the day is triumph enough for the walking wounded among the great many of us.

According to some of the voices in this Reader, things may get worse.  In 1991, Robert Reich, who later became Labor Secretary under Bill Clinton, made several predictions about America’s workforce, all of which are true today.  In 2015, he predicts more financial pressure on those already being squeezed as well as new pressure, as a result of technological advancements, in sectors that have traditionally been insulated– education and health.  However, he also says this is not our fate– we can make choices together so that instead of this future we witness together the rise of working America.

It is likely– given the exceptional nature of America– to achieve a better outcome than what’s expected of us.  But of course it will require more than we’ve given thus far.

It will require an openness to reexamine the story  and place of work in America. We must learn who are the people– perhaps not in the history books– who have championed working Americans?  We must learn why Lincoln– a man likely to be the most famous American ever– urged others to see labor deserving “higher consideration” than money?

In the end, creating this future and being here for the rise of working America will come from being curious enough to discover the truth about the story and place of work in America, courageous enough to change our minds, and smart enough to find ourselves in the march.

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The Beauty of Honest Information Wed, 13 May 2015 01:03:34 +0000 The new Reader Magazine tells the tale of work and labor in America.  It is a tale of battling interests, negotiations, violence, and prosperity.  “Labor is Life” reads a Depression-era, 3¢ postage stamp celebrating Labor Day.  All throughout this story the notion of fairness plays out, the backbone of arguments used by both businesses and the laborer.  All the while, it is the public that ultimately determines winners and losers in this struggle, through its support or rebuke of the players.

But can we expect to be able to recognize what is fair, or expect powerful institutions to be accountable to us, if what we need for both– honest information– isn’t circulating freely?  Does honest information circulate freely today?  Let’s look at what we’ve seen.

Twelve years ago, the American people were misinformed about the extent of global protest against the US government’s plan to invade Iraq, which amounted to 35 million people protesting,  later recorded in the Guiness Book of Records as the largest protests in human history.  At the time, we were without journalism institutions with enough strength and independence to publicly question the US government’s rationale for going to war in Iraq because of collusion between big business, big media and big government.

The actual negative impact from this fiasco-laden war is still largely kept from the public by the same media companies that embedded its journalists so as to not reveal the extent and cost of their complicity.  The data is nevertheless available.   According to John Hopkins University’s Lancet study, 654,965 Iraqis were killed between 2003 and 2007 as a result of the invasion, mostly civilian men, women and children, 4,425 American soldiers were killed, hundreds of thousands of people were wounded and displaced, and US taxpayers got stuck with a $2 trillion bill.  How on earth did we get to this place?

Beginning in the early 1980s and continuing today, America’s carefully-tooled regulations, in place for decades to protect the public from giant corporations controlling too much of America’s judgement– shaped by control of movies, TV, newspapers and all other media– have been dismantled, leaving the public vulnerable, cynical and increasingly politically disempowered.
In 1981, Mark S. Fowler, the FCC chairman appointed by Ronald Reagan, argued that television was “just another appliance. It’s a toaster with pictures. We’ve got to look beyond the conventional wisdom that we must somehow regulate this box”.  Mr. Fowler didn’t believe what millions of Americans already knew about TV’s real power in America, immortalized by Howard Beale in the 1976 Academy Award-winning film Network who thundered:

Right now, there is a whole, an entire generation that never knew anything that didn’t come out of this tube. This tube is the Gospel. The ultimate revelation! This tube can make or break Presidents, Popes, Prime Ministers. This tube is the most awesome, god-damn force in the whole godless world. And woe is us if it ever falls into the hands of the wrong people.

That the genius at the FCC would think “the invisible hand of the market” would keep the public safe from too much control of this tube in too few hands is a good indication of how wrong an entire school of thought can be.  What is known is that he was dead wrong.  The loosening of regulations caused massive consolidation of media power in the US and it led to real problems for Americans.

With the decline of authentic local media channels, bought up and shuttered or their reporting dramatically reduced by massive media companies, the standard at which communities across the United States are informed and engaged has plummeted.  From 1981 to the present day, a 35-year trend of accelerating media consolidation has been a reinforcing cycle in which the decline in the value of the information provided—- the result of cost-cutting in order to achieve short term profits– has lowered the value of the news-providing business itself, which further lowers the value of information provided.  A 2012 Gallup survey showed Americans’ trust in the dominant media has never been lower.

In communities like ours across the US, small businesses and ordinary folks are increasingly economically vulnerable from being without authentic, local media channels serving as their political champion.   The evidence of this economic and political vulnerability is everywhere. For example, despite U.S. small businesses producing 50% of all U.S. GDP, half of all payroll, and the majority of new jobs, they receive less than 1% of the available investment capital in the U.S.  Income and political inequality has reached a level at which today four hundred Americans have more wealth than half of all Americans combined.

It was not always like this.  Part of what fostered America’s equal economic opportunity, growth and global dominance during the late 1940s to early 1970s came through a shared sense of purpose, taste and vocabulary made possible from a single media entity entering nearly every American home, distributed through a decentralized, democratic system in which thousands of local media channels could exert influence– and thus accountability– in what was coming into homes.

Unfortunately, media consolidation has removed the powerful democratizing force small communities and businesses can exert on what is heard, read and seen. Here is part of what was not heard, read or seen:  from 1983 to 2013, while the number of companies controlling 90% of American’s information went from 50 to 6–every year over the same thirty year period–90% of Americans had zero or negative income growth and there was an annual $1.5 trillion upward redistribution of wealth from 90% of population to the top 1%, according to Professor Robert Wade of the London School of Economics.

What’s to be done?  The force to power honest information and a much-needed, new level of political accountability nationwide exists.  Likewise, a local media channel that can bring this information free to all, and political accountability exists.  But the force has yet to be channeled and the channel has yet to be forced into this purpose.

The force is the twenty-seven million U.S. small and mid-sized business owners, who together produce $8.4 trillion of the nation’s GDP, and the majority of the U.S. population who are without an authentic local media channel which champions their interests regionally and nationally.

The channel is what you’re reading, The Reader.  Last year these great American small business owners– 27 million of them– together spent $55 billion on local advertising, more than half spent on the kind of advertising The Reader can provide to each of them.

After two long years of rigorous planning and research– and 15 years in the school of hard knocks– The Reader has completed a 75-page plan to provide what it provides you and your family to every family in America.

This is great news for all Americans and awful news for Comcast, NewsCorp, TimeWarner, CBS, Disney, and Viacom who’ve enjoyed a decades-long party of unaccountability, irresponsibility and corporate welfare, hidden from view  by their misinformation, omission, and distraction, a party paid for by the American people.

It’s time the American people had something to really celebrate, a party of their own.  And before you have a party, you need to send out your invitations, which we think The Reader can do every quarter, to everyone, free.  We hope you choose to join us in this work (and at the party) particularly through your support of each business in The Reader.

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Building Solar in California Mon, 04 May 2015 01:05:28 +0000

On November 1, 2014, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned:

Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.

In summarizing this study, the Washington Post reported:

The planet faces a future of extreme weather, rising sea levels and melting polar ice from soaring levels of carbon dioxide and other gases, the U.N. panel said. Only an unprecedented global effort to slash emissions within a relatively short time period will prevent temperatures from crossing a threshold that scientists say could trigger far more dangerous disruptions, the panel warned.iii

And the New York Times reported:

Failure to reduce emissions, the group of scientists and other experts found, could threaten society with food shortages, refugee crises, the flooding of major cities and entire island nations, mass extinction of plants and animals, and a climate so drastically altered it might become dangerous for people to work or play outside during the hottest times of the year…. The gathering risks of climate change are so profound that they could stall or even reverse generations of progress against poverty and hunger if greenhouse emissions continue at a runaway pace, according to a major new United Nations report.

Yet the world is moving only slowly to meet this increasingly clear and present danger.

However, in California over the last five years, dramatic action has taken place addressing greenhouse gas emissions through an ongoing transition from fossil fuel generated electricity to renewable energy electricity generation. While currently in California natural gas accounts for 44% of the total system’s electrical power and coal accounts for 8%, renewable energy sources account for 19%, up from 11% in 2008. The fastest growing segment of California’s renewable energy portfolio over the last five years has been solar energy. In-state, utility-scale solar generated electricity has quadrupled since 2010.

In this report, Environmental and Economic Benefits of Building Solar in California, we provide a case study where federal, state, and construction industry policies and practices are cutting through the Gordian Knott of economic, political, and policy paralysis in the face of impending, irreversible, and destructive climate change. Describing California’s leadership in the expansion of renewable energy electricity generation, we first discuss the current boom in utility-scale solar farms in California and the emissions averted by California’s renewable energy generated electricity.

The study also examines the employment effects of having built 4,250 MW of utility-scale solar powered electricity generating facilities in California over the last five years. We calculate the new construction, maintenance, and operations jobs created by California’s boom in utility-scale solar plants plus the upstream and downstream jobs stimulated by this construction. We estimate the income and health and pension benefits of these new construction and plant operations jobs.

Because the vast majority of construction jobs in California’s recent utility-scale solar boom have been organized under collective bargaining, these contracts have required payments into apprenticeship training pro- grams for each hour worked building these solar power plants. Reflecting this, we calculate the new monies that have gone into the training of the next generation of construction workers who will be called upon to build a more climate-friendly infrastructure over the coming decades.

This new human capital not only raises the productive capacity of California’s construction labor force but also transforms the lives of newly trained workers. We estimate how this training affects the lifetime earnings of these new workers, and we provide personal case studies of four new apprentices as they consider their past and look into their future.

Finally, we look at the federal, state, and industry policies that have made this solar boom possible. We conclude that there is a synergy between good jobs and green energy projects. Smart government policies and high-road construction practices are a foundation for addressing climate change, and, in turn, good jobs and clean energy projects reinforce the policies and practices that stimulated these jobs and practices in the first place.

Global warming is a clear, present, and serious threat but it is not intractable. California’s recent solar boom is an example of how politics and economics can work together to untie the knot of inaction in the face of the gathering risks of climate change.

For a PDF of the full report, click here.

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Choosing Life Sun, 03 May 2015 21:41:30 +0000 The affable, soft-spoken dairy farmer stood outside his 70-stall milking barn on his 230-acre family farm. When his father started farming there in 1950 were about 800 dairy farms in New York state’s Orange County. Only 39 survive. Small, traditional farms have been driven out of business by rising real estate prices, genetic manipulation of cows, industrial-scale hormone use that greatly increases milk production, wildly fluctuating milk prices and competition from huge operations that have herds numbering in the thousands.

I grew up in the dairy farm town of Schoharie in upstate New York. The farmers would let me pick through the rocks in their stone walls as I searched for fossils of Crinoid stems, Trilobites, Eurypterids and Brachiopods. I was in numerous cow barns and pastures as a boy. I have a deep respect for the hard life of small dairy farmers. They are up at 5 or 6 in the morning for the first milking, work all day and milk the cows again in the late afternoon. This goes on seven days a week. They rarely take vacations. And their finances are precarious.

When I was in Minisink recently it was the first time I had been on a dairy farm as a vegan. I do not eat meat. I do not eat eggs. I do not consume dairy products. I no longer accept that cows must be repeatedly impregnated to give us milk, must be separated immediately from their newborns and ultimately must be slaughtered long before the end of their natural lives to produce low-grade hamburger, leather, glue, gelatin and pet food. I can no longer accept calves being raised in horrific conditions before they are killed for the veal industry, developed to profit from the many “useless” males born because dairy farms regularly impregnate cows to ensure continuous milk production.

Once the right of the powerful to exploit the powerless—whether that exploitation is of animals by humans, other nations by an imperial power, other races by the white race, or women by men—once that right is removed from our belief system, blinders are lifted. On my visit to rural New York state I saw dairy farming in a new way—as a business that depends on the enslavement of the female reproductive systems of animals, animals that feel pain, suffer and love their young.

“As long as they keep breeding back they [the cows] can stay here,” the farmer said to me as he stood in mud-splattered rubber boots. “That is three to four lactations. We get a few that get up to eight or nine lactations. They don’t calve until they are 2-year-olds. You add about four lactations to that and it is about seven years. We try to breed for better production. The biggest reason for cows leaving the herd is not breeding back. Then we send them to a livestock market and they are sold for beef.”

The normal life span of a cow is 20 to 25 years. The life span of a cow on a dairy farm, one whose reproductive system is often speeded up through administering hormones such as estrogen and prostaglandin, is five to seven years. At points during the final four or five years of their lives, ovulating cows are restrained in a “rape rack” and inseminated with a sperm gun that is thrust deep into their vaginas. Once their milk productivity decreases, usually after a few pregnancies, they are killed.

As I talked with the farmer he lifted a bag of powdered milk inside the barn. He explained that if a cow gives birth while other cows are in the milking stalls the mother is separated immediately from the baby and is milked. If a cow gives birth at night it is milked the following morning.

“When you separate the calf from the mother, isn’t it difficult for the mother?” I asked.

“The animal rights people think so,” the farmer said. “I don’t really notice.”

He conceded that the calves cry when they are taken from their mothers but said it was “because they are hungry.”

Removing the calf “is the way it has to be done,” he said. “If the cow gets dirty and the calf suckles the cow, it can ingest manure and mud. There are different types of diseases it can get. There is one, Johne’s disease, that is really bad.”

I have been on enough dairy farms to know that at least some mothers bellow, cry, refuse to eat and exhibit anxiety when their newborns are taken away. And I know that newborn calves cry when they are separated from their mothers. I can’t blame the farmer for not acknowledging this suffering. I myself did not acknowledge it before I became a vegan. I too witnessed, but overlooked, the suffering of cows on dairy farms. I reasoned it “had to be done.”

Farmers often display genuine affection for the animals they abuse and send to slaughter. They do this by normalizing the abuse, believing that it is a practical and unquestioned necessity, and by refusing to emotionally confront the suffering and fate of the animals. This willful numbness, this loss of empathy and compassion for other living beings, was something I encountered frequently in the wars I covered as a reporter. Prisoners could be treated affectionately, much like pets—the vast disparity of power meant there was never a real relationship—and then killed without remorse.

A culture that kills, including for food, must create a belief system that inures people to suffering. This is the only way the slaughter of other sentient beings is possible. This numbness allows us to dehumanize Muslims in the Middle East and our own poor, unemployed, underpaid and mentally ill, as well as the more than 9 billion land animals killed for food each year in the United States and the 70 billion land animals killed for food each year across the world. If we added fish, the numbers would be in the trillions.

Gitta Sereny in “Into That Darkness,” her book based on interviews with the commandant of the Nazis’ Treblinka death camp in Poland, Franz Stangl, who was apprehended in Brazil in 1967 and sentenced to life in prison, describes how Stangl fondly recalled certain individual Jewish prisoners who worked in the camp before they were exterminated. When she asked him what happened to those Jews, “the answer was precisely the same, in the same tone of detachment, with the same politely aloof expression in his face. ‘I don’t know.’ ”

Sereny wrote:

Would it be true to say that you finally felt they weren’t really human beings?

“When I was on a trip once, years later in Brazil,” he said, his face deeply concentrated, and obviously reliving the experience, “my train stopped next to a slaughterhouse. The cattle in the pens hearing the noise of the train, trotted up to the fence and stared at the train. They were very close to my window, one crowding the other, looking at me through that fence. I thought then, ‘Look at this, this reminds me of Poland; that’s just how the people looked, trustingly, just before they went into the tins. …’ ”

“You said tins,” I interrupted. “What do you mean?” But he went on without hearing or answering me.

“… I couldn’t eat tinned meat after that. Those big eyes which looked at me not knowing that in no time at all they’d all be dead.” He paused. His face was drawn. At this moment he looked old and worn and real.

“So you didn’t feel they were human beings?”

“Cargo,” he said tonelessly. “They were cargo.” He raised and dropped his hand in a gesture of despair. Both our voices had dropped. It was one of the few times in those weeks of talks that he made no effort to cloak his despair, and his hopeless grief allowed a moment of sympathy.

“When do you think you began to think of them as cargo? The way you spoke earlier, of the day when you first came to Treblinka, the horror you felt seeing the dead bodies everywhere—they weren’t ‘cargo’ to you then, were they?”

“I think it started the day I first saw the Totenlager [the subcamp that housed the gas chambers] in Treblinka. I remember Wirth [Christian Wirth, the first commandant of Treblinka] standing there, next to the pits full of blue-black corpses. It had nothing to do with humanity, it couldn’t have; it was a mass—a mass of rotting flesh. Wirth said, ‘What shall we do with this garbage?’ I think unconsciously that started me thinking of them as cargo.”

“There were so many children, did they ever make you think of your children, of how you would feel in the position of those parents?”

“No,” he said slowly, “I can’t say I ever thought that way.” He paused. “You see,” he then continued, still speaking with this extreme seriousness and obviously intent on finding a new truth within himself, “I rarely saw them as individuals. It was always a huge mass. I sometimes stood on the wall and saw them in the tube. But—how can I explain it—they were naked, packed together, running, being driven with whips like …” the sentence trailed off.

“Could you not have changed that?” I asked. “In your position, could you not have stopped the nakedness, the whips, the horror of the cattle pens?”

“No, no, no. This was the system. Wirth had invented it. It worked and because it worked, it was irreversible.”

“Because cruelty is inescapable in confining, mutilating, and slaughtering animals for food, we have been forced from childhood to be distracted and inattentive perpetrators of cruelty … ,” Will Tuttle writes in “The World Peace Diet.” “As infants, we have no idea what ‘veal,’ ‘turkey,’ ‘egg,’ or ‘beef’ actually are, or where they come from. … We find out slowly, and by the time we do, the cruelty and perversity involved seem natural and normal to us.”

The veal industry was created solely to profit from the 4.5 million male calves born and at one time discarded on dairy farms each year. Female calves go into the same system of reproductive slavery as their mothers or, if there are too many, are also sold for veal. When they are only a few days or weeks old, veal calves are chained at the neck and locked into crates so tiny they cannot move and develop their muscles. This makes their flesh more tender. They live in darkness, immobilized in these crates, for three or four months, fed a liquid diet filled with a heavy infusion of chemicals to prevent disease before they are slaughtered.

The animal agriculture industry is an integral part of the corporate state. The corporate state’s exploitation and impoverishment of workers and its poisoning of the environment, as well as its torture and violence toward animals, are carried out because of the obsession for greater and greater profit.

Cows on U.S. dairy farms once produced an average of 10,000 to 15,000 pounds (milk is often measured in pounds) a year but now are bred and engineered, often through hormones, to produce 30,000 to 40,000 pounds a year.

“When my parents first started, most of these farms had 30 or 40 cows,” the farmer at Minisink said. “People milked by hand or the early milking machines. Everybody started switching over to automatic milking machines and vacuum systems. The cow was milked in the pail and then the milk was dumped into the milk can. The can held 100 pounds, 12 and a half gallons. The cans were put in a cooler and then you took the cans to the local creamery. There was a creamery here in Unionville, one in Westtown, one in Johnson, one in Slate Hill. Slowly the creameries started closing up. In the early ’60s they switched over to the bulk tanks. Instead of cans the milk was piped into a bulk tank that cooled it off. A truck came and picked it up. When that happened, a lot of farms went out of business. People did not invest in the bulk tanks. They just quit.”

Sherry Colb writes: “The animal we consume may already be dead, but other animals who will be created and used for food in the future are not. By consuming the dead animal (or products, such as dairy and eggs, that necessarily involve the killing and hurting of animals) right now, we demand that more animals be killed tomorrow. … In essence, buying and consuming products is how we communicate as consumers to producers, and the message is this: ‘Keep making your product, and I will keep buying it.’… [W]hen a person demands a type of product, he becomes morally implicated in the production of that type of product.”

“[W]e are invested in seeing the consumption of animal products as normal … ,” Colb writes. “We are inclined to rationalize what we do, and we experience what social psychologists call ‘cognitive dissonance’ when we sense a conflict between our own regular, day-to-day behavior and our deeply-held values.”

A society that sees all life as sacred, including the lives of animals, no longer exploits life, including that of other human beings and the ecosystem, for personal empowerment, pleasure or profit. Ceasing to be omnivores, we cease to be numb. We restore balance not only to the earth—animal agriculture is the primary engine behind the ecological devastation of the planet—but to our lives. We break down the emotional walls that permit us to exploit living beings and kill them.


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California Water Wars: A form of Asset Stripping? Thu, 23 Apr 2015 04:37:48 +0000

In California’s epic drought, wars over water rights continue, while innovative alternatives for increasing the available water supply go untapped.

Wars over California’s limited water supply have been going on for at least a century. Water wars have been the subject of some vintage movies, including the 1958 hit The Big Country starring Gregory Peck, Clint Eastwood’s 1985 Pale Rider, 1995’s Waterworld with Kevin Costner, and the 2005 film Batman Begins. Most acclaimed was the 1975 Academy Award winner Chinatown with Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway, involving a plot between a corrupt Los Angeles politician and land speculators to fabricate the 1937 drought in order to force farmers to sell their land at low prices. The plot was rooted in historical fact, reflecting battles between Owens Valley farmers and Los Angeles urbanites over water rights.

Today the water wars continue on a larger scale with new players. It’s no longer just the farmers against the ranchers or the urbanites. It’s the people against the new “water barons”  – Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Monsanto, the Bush family, and their ilk – who are buying up water all over the world at an unprecedented pace.

A Drought of Epic Proportions

At a news conference on March 19, 2015, California Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon warned, “There is no greater crisis facing our state today than our lack of water.”

Jay Famiglietti, a scientist with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge, California, wrote in the Los Angeles Times on March 12th:

Right now the state has only about one year of water supply left in its reservoirs, and our strategic backup supply, groundwater, is rapidly disappearing. California has no contingency plan for a persistent drought like this one (let alone a 20-plus-year mega-drought), except, apparently, staying in emergency mode and praying for rain.

Maps indicate that the areas of California hardest hit by the mega-drought are those that grow a large percentage of America’s food. California supplies 50% of the nation’s food and more organic food than any other state. Western Growers estimates that last year 500,000 acres of farmland were left unplanted, an amount that could increase by 40% this year. The trade group pegs farm job losses at 17,000 last year and more in 2015.

Farmers with contracts from the Central Valley Project, a large federal irrigation system, will receive no water for the second consecutive year, according to preliminary forecasts. Cities and industries will get 25 percent of their full contract allocation, to ensure sufficient water for human health and safety. Besides shortages, there is the problem of toxic waste dumped into water supplies by oil company fracking. Economists estimate the cost of the drought in 2014 at $2.2 billion.

No Contingency Plan

The massive Delta water tunnel project, designed to fix Southern California’s water supply problems by siphoning water from the north, was delayed last August due to complaints from Delta residents and landowners. The project remains stalled, as the California Department of Water Resources reviews some 30,000 comments. When or if the project is finally implemented, it will take years to complete, at an estimated cost of about $60 billion including financing costs.

Meanwhile, alternatives for increasing the water supply rather than fighting over limited groundwater resources are not being pursued. Why not? Skeptical observers note that water is being called the next commodity boom. Christina Sarich, writing on, asserts:

Numerous companies are poised to take advantage of the water crisis. Instead of protecting existing water supplies, implementing stricter regulations, and coming up with novel ways to capture rainwater, or desalinizing seawater, the corporate agenda is ready, like a snake coiled, to make trillions off your thirst.

These coiled snakes include Monsanto and other biotech companies, which are developing drought-resistant and aluminum-resistant seeds set to take over when the organic farmers throw in the towel. Organic dairy farmers and ranchers have been the hardest hit by the drought, since the certified organic pasture on which their cows must be fed is dwindling fast.

Some critics suggest that, as in Chinatown, the drought itself is man-made, triggered not only by unprecedented carbon emissions but by “geo-engineering” – spraying the skies with aluminum and other particulates, ostensibly to shield the earth from global warming (though there may be other motives). On February 15, 2015, noted climate scientist Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institute for Science at Stanford asserted that geo-engineering was the only way to rapidly cool the earth. He said:

A small fleet of airplanes could do what large volcanos do — create a layer of small particles high in the atmosphere that scatters incoming sunlight back to space. Cooling the Earth this way, could be fast, cheap and easy.

That technique also suppresses rainfall. According to U.S. patent #6315213, filed by the US military on November 13, 2002:

The polymer is dispersed into the cloud and the wind of the storm agitates the mixture causing the polymer to absorb the rain. This reaction forms a gelatinous substance which precipitate to the surface below. Thus, diminishing the cloud’s ability to rain.

Suspicious observers ask whether this is all part of a larger plan. Christina Sarich notes that while the state thirsts for water, alternatives for increasing the water supply go untapped:

Chemical Engineers at MIT have indeed figured out how to desalinate water – electrodialysis having the potential to make seawater potable quickly and cheaply without removing other contaminants such as dirt and bacteria, and there are inexpensive nanotech filters that can clean hazardous microbes and chemicals from drinking water. Designer Arturo Vittori believes the solution to the water catastrophe lies not in high technology but in a giant basket that collects clean drinking water from condensation in the air.

Tapping Underground Seas

Another untapped resource is California’s own “primary” water — water newly produced by chemical processes within the earth that has never been part of the surface hydrological cycle. Created when conditions are right to allow oxygen to combine with hydrogen, this water is continually being pushed up under great pressure from deep within the earth and finds its way toward the surface where there are fissures or faults. This water can be located everywhere on the planet. It is the water flowing in wells in oases in the desert, where there is neither rainfall nor mountain run-off to feed them.

A study reported in Scientific American in March 2014 documented the presence of vast quantities of water locked far beneath the earth’s surface, generated not by surface rainfall but from pressures deep within. The study confirmed “that there is a very, very large amount of water that’s trapped in a really distinct layer in the deep Earth… approaching the sort of mass of water that’s present in all the world’s oceans.”

In December 2014, BBC News reported the results of a study presented at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union, in which researchers estimate there is more water locked deep in the earth’s crust than in all its rivers, swamps and lakes together. Japanese researchers reported in Science in March 2002 that the earth’s lower mantle may store about five times more water than its surface oceans.

Dramatic evidence that earthquakes can release water from deep within the earth was demonstrated last August, when Napa was hit with a 6.0 quake. Solano County suddenly enjoyed a massive new flow of water in local creeks, including a reported 200,000 gallons per day just from Wild Horse Creek. These increased flows are still ongoing, puzzling researchers who have visited the area.

Where did this enormous waterflow come from? If it were being released from a shallow aquifer, something would have to replace that volume of withdrawal, which was occurring at the rate of over 1,000 gallons per minute – over 10 times the pre-quake flow. Massive sinkholes or subsidence would be expected, but there were no such reports. Evidently these new waters were coming from much deeper sources, released through crevices created by the quake.

So states Pal Pauer of the Primary Water Institute, one of the world’s leading experts in tapping primary water. After decades of  primary water studies and successful drilling projects, Pauer has demonstrated that this abundant water source can be accessed to supplement our current water supply. Primary water may be tapped directly, or it may be found commingled with secondary water (e.g. aquifers) fed from atmospheric sources. New sophisticated techniques using airborne geophysical and satellite data allow groundwater and primary water to be located in rock through a process called “fracture trace mapping,” in which large fractures are identified by thorough analysis of the airborne and satellite data for exploratory drilling.

Pauer maintains that a well sufficient to service an entire community could be dug and generating great volumes of water in a mere two or three days, at a cost of about $100,000. The entire state of California could be serviced for about $800 million – less than 2% of the cost of the very controversial Delta water tunnels – and this feat could be accomplished without robbing the North to feed the South.

The Water Wars Continue

California officials have been unresponsive to such proposals. Instead, the state has undertaken to regulate underground water. In September, a trio of bills were signed establishing a framework for statewide regulation of California’s underground water sources, marking the first time in the state’s history that groundwater will be managed on a large scale. Water has until now been considered a property right. The Los Angeles Times reported:

[M]any agriculture interests remain staunchly opposed to the bill. Paul Wenger, president of the California Farm Bureau Federation, said the bills “may come to be seen as ‘historic’ for all the wrong reasons” by drastically harming food production.

. . . “There’s really going to be a wrestling match over who’s going to get the water,” [Fresno Assemblyman] Patterson said, predicting the regulation plans will bring a rash of lawsuits.

And so the saga of the water wars continues. The World Bank recently adopted a policy of water privatization and full-cost water pricing. One of its former directors, Ismail Serageldin, stated, “The wars of the 21st century will be fought over water.”

In the movie Chinatown, the corrupt oligarchs won. The message seemed to be that right is no match against might. But armed with that powerful 21st century tool the Internet, which can generate mass awareness and coordinated action, right may yet prevail.


Ellen Brown is an attorney, founder of the Public Banking Institute, and author of twelve books including the best-selling Web of Debt. Her latest book, The Public Bank Solution, explores successful public banking models historically and globally. Her 300+ blog articles are at

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